Fireworks lit up the Manhattan (search) skyline and thundered throughout the city as what was billed as the largest pyrotechnic display in the country slathered the Statue of Liberty (search) in bursts of color.

Thousands of New Yorkers and out-of-towners converged near the city's waterways to catch a glimpse of the more than 36,000 shells exploding in concert Sunday.

The night also featured a tribute to the Statue of Liberty and performances by Aretha Franklin, Cheryl Crow and "American Idol" winner Fantasia (search). The televised show was hosted by Carson Daly.

Security downtown was tight as thousands of police officers patrolled the area. No trouble was reported.

Neal Richardson, 53, of Poughkeepsie, said he felt safe among the throng. "I enjoyed watching the fireworks," he said. "Terrorism really didn't concern me."

For the fourth straight year, a rail-thin competitor outperformed much beefier opponents to take the title in Nathan's Famous hot dog-eating contest.

Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan -- just 5-foot-7 and 132 pounds -- wolfed down 531/2 wieners in 12 minutes, shattering his own world record. His nearest challenger gulped down only 38.

"I could have done a lot, a lot more," Kobayashi said through an interpreter.

Torrential rain over Washington, D.C., didn't upstage the concert, "A Capitol Fourth," on the West Lawn of the Capitol or the annual fireworks, which went on as scheduled.

People wanting to enter the Mall had to pass through one of 19 checkpoints and have their belongings inspected. Alcohol, glass containers, fireworks, and portable grills were prohibited.

Fourteen closed-circuit television cameras trained on the downtown area were turned on at 8 a.m., and the Metropolitan Police Department activated its Joint Operations Command Center.

At Philadelphia's Independence Hall, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai was awarded the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, given each July 4 by the nonprofit, nonpolitical Philadelphia Foundation to recognize leadership in the pursuit of freedom. The medal's $100,000 prize will go to support Afghan orphans, he said.

Festivities opened in Boston (search) with a morning parade and flag-raising that also served as a sort of kickoff of a series of events leading to the Democratic National Convention July 26-29.

The Pops concert and fireworks celebration on Boston's Esplanade was one of many Independence Day observances held under cloudless skies across the state.

"The Fourth of July has special meaning in Boston," Mayor Tom Menino said to the crowd gathered at City Hall for the city's annual celebration. "Our country and everything we stand for started right here in these streets."